OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, today called for the Oklahoma Legislature to convene a special session to extend an exemption that allows public bodies to meet virtually during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In addition to the call for a special session, House Democrats reiterated their call for Governor Kevin Stitt to implement a statewide mask mandate.
“In March, in the name of public safety, we passed legislation to protect Oklahoman’s lives and the ability for public bodies to function without the risk of spreading COVID,” Virgin said. “These aren’t my words. These are the words of the Republican leaders who supported this legislation.”
The legislation passed in March was Senate Bill 661. Oklahoma’s average daily cases when the legislation passed were in the 20s. Today, Oklahoma’s case numbers are more than than 2,000 per day. Likewise, COVID deaths have gone from zero in March to more than 1,400 now.
“The COVID situation in Oklahoma has gotten worse, not better, since the Legislature saw it fit to enact this provision,” Virgin said. “To allow this accommodation to expire would be entirely irresponsible. If we all agreed that the situation was dangerous enough in March to allow public bodies to meet this way, then logic dictates we would renew this provision.”
The Democratic leader pointed out that legislators would be at the Capitol during the next week for swearing-in ceremonies and suggested that the opportunity be used for the special session.
“Surely during all of the pomp and circumstance we can find some time to do some work for Oklahomans,” Virgin said.
The Norman lawmaker, while once again advocating for a statewide mask mandate, also spoke about how COVID has affected her family.
“Both of my parents were hospitalized due to COVID,” Virgin said. “I know what Oklahomans are going through when they have to talk to loved ones through nurses and doctors. It is time to stop trying to score political points and implement a statewide mask mandate.”
Thirty-five states have now issued a mask mandate to protect their citizens from COVID.
“Our healthcare providers and hospitals are doing all they can do,” Virgin said. “It’s time for our government leaders to do the same.
“Governor Stitt says he’s asking Oklahomans to do the right thing and protect each other. Well, governor, we’re asking you to do the right thing. Protect Oklahomans by enacting a statewide mask order. If the governors of surrounding states and other red states like Utah can make the decision to enact a statewide mask order, you can too.”